New Delhi: In a major breakthrough, both India and Pakistan will create a “corridor” in their respective territories for Indian pilgrims from Dera Baba Nanak (in Gurdaspur district of India’s Punjab) to the famous Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara (close to the international border in Pakistan’s Punjab), where the founder of Sikhism and the first guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak, had spent the last years of his life in the first half of the 16th century. The move holds special significance for Indian Sikh pilgrims as the corridor will enable “easy and smooth” travel to Kartarpur Sahib for the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak that will take place in November next year.
Both countries also seemed eager to take credit for the corridor in their respective territories. New Delhi said the Indian government “has already decided to build the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the international border with all modern amenities on our side”, while Pakistan said it had already conveyed its decision to India that it would set up a corridor on the Pakistani side, adding that Pakistan PM Imran Khan would perform the ground-breaking ceremony for the corridor and facilities for Kartarpur on November 28 this year.
While Islamabad tried to claim credit, saying New Delhi had “endorsed” Pakistan’s “proposition”, New Delhi had set the record straight a few months ago, noting that it was Pakistan which had stonewalled India’s suggestion in this regard on two previous occasions — in 1999 and 2004-05. New Delhi on Thursday said it had “urged” the Pakistan government to build a “corridor” across the border in Pakistani Punjab to “facilitate easy and smooth visits of pilgrims from India to Kartarpur Sahib (Gurdwara) throughout the year”. Pakistan, meanwhile, hailed Thursday’s developments as a “victory of the peace lobby in both countries”, adding it hopes “”such steps encourage the voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border”.
According to media reports over the past few months, Pakistan had been considering giving Indian Sikh pilgrims visa-free access to Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara through the creation of a corridor, provided they return the same day. But it is yet to be seen whether Islamabad will eventually allow visa-free access or insist on visas.
On Thursday, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi tweeted: “Pakistan has already conveyed to India its decision to open Kartarpura Corridor for Baba Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary. PM Imran Khan will do break ground at Kartarpura facilities on 28th November. We welcome the Sikh community to Pakistan for this auspicious occasion.”
Trying to claim credit, Pakistan I&B minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain tweeted: “The Indian Cabinet endorsement of Pakistan’s proposition on #KartarPurBorderOpening is victory of peace lobby in both countries, it’s a step towards right direction and we hope such steps’ll encourage voice of reason and tranquility on both sides of the border.”
On Thursday, New Delhi said: “In keeping with the resolution adopted by the Cabinet today to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji in 2019, we have approached and urged the Pakistan government to recognise the sentiments of the Sikh community and build a corridor with suitable facilities in their territory to facilitate easy and smooth visits of pilgrims from India to Kartarpur Sahib throughout the year. The Government of India has already decided to build the corridor from Dera Baba Nanak to the international border with all modern amenities on our side.”
Pakistani diplomatic sources had earlier said in September that Islamabad planned to make the much-awaited offer to India at the then proposed meeting in New York of the foreign ministers of the two countries. The offer was reportedly to have been made by Pakistan’s foreign minister to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj had the two ministers met at a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September this year. The meeting was planned but later cancelled by India over the killing of three Kashmiri policemen by terrorists in J&K and also the killing of a BSF soldier by Pakistani troops.
Explaining the issue in great detail in September, MEA spokesman Raveesh Kumar had then said: “I can confirm the matter was taken up with the Pakistani side several times in the past. You may be aware about this 1974 protocol between India and Pakistan on visits to religions shrines. I think under this protocol there are 15 shrines... Kartarpur Sahib is not part of this list... I will have to go back to 1999 when during the visit of then Prime Minister (Atal Behari) Vajpayee to Lahore, this issue was raised and this was to consider a visa-free visit to the shrine, but there was no response from the Pakistani side.”